Dry Nails: Causes and Treatments

Back to Health Hub

Having dry nails can be a pain when it comes to trying to grow them out. Dry nails can crack, split and break. But why does this happen and how can we treat them?

Our nails are made up of several layers of the keratin protein. Nails serve as a protective layer on our hands and feet. Keratin protein also creates the cells that make up our hair and skin, and also helps to protect our nails from becoming damaged. It is common for our nails to split, break and crack. Around 27% of women have brittle nails, which is known as onychyoschzia. But what causes dry nails and how can we treat them? Let’s delve into the detail.

What causes dry nails?Dry nails

Dry nails are a result of little to no moisture on your hands. Dry nails are most commonly caused by the repeat habit of washing and drying hands without applying moisture to them afterwards. However, soft and brittle nails, can be caused be too much moisture on the hand, or over exposure to chemicals, such as household cleaning products, nail varnish remover and detergents.

Dry nails can also be known as a condition called onychorrhexis, which is a condition where vertical ridges form on your nails.

What is onychorrhexis?

This dry nail condition causes ridges and splitting to appear on your nails. The nail may have several splits that cause triangle like tears on the edge of the nail. The condition involves the nail matrix, which is the part of the nail that is responsible for making the nail grow. Issues with keratin, the protein used for nail and hair growth, can affect the way the nail grows, which in tern leads to onychorrhexis.

Most of the time, this condition is not normally something to worry about and is considered a cosmetic problem. However, sometimes the nails can become so dry that they break and split easily, which can cause pain and may make daily tasks harder to carry out.

There is research to suggest that onychorrhexis is the sign of other underlying health conditions such as:

  • Anaemia
  • Thyroid disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Eating disorders
  • Aging
  • Deficiency in Folic Acid
  • Low Iron

How quickly do nails grow back?moisturizing hands

It is never a nice to have your nails snap, especially when you have been growing them out for a long time. There are studies that suggest our nails grow approximately 3.47 millimetres per month. Toenails however, grow much slower, at around 1.62 mm per month.

If your nail has completely fallen off, or broken down to the cuticle, the nail can take up to 6 months for adult fingernails to grow out completely, and around 12 months for toenails.

What can I do to treat my dry nails?

Unfortunately, if your dry nails are due to your age, then there is not much you can do to treat age related changes, however if your dry nails are due to too much hand washing, or exposure to certain chemicals then there are ways in which you can minimise the effect of dry nails.

Limit getting your nails done

To strengthen the nail, limiting the number of manicures, or acrylics you get will allow your nails to avoid being exposed to the chemicals that are used during the process. Those being nail varnish, remover and any electrical files. If you are removing any polish, then you should avoid using acetone-based removers.

Moisturise little and often

When moisturising your hands, try to use a lotion that contains alpha hydroxy acid or lanolin. Try to get into the habit of moisturising your hands after washing, and when applying moisturiser make sure to massage into the nails. As well as moisturiser, or instead of, you can opt to use a cuticle oil, which will help to hydrate the nail bed, and thus helping the growth of your nails.

Try not to over-moisturise, as this may cause your nails to become too soft and thus will start to break too.

Protect your hands

When cleaning, such as doing household chores or washing up, wear gloves where possible and try to keep your hands dry. Wearing gloves will help to protect your nails and hands from any harsh chemicals that are in cleaning fluids and washing up liquids.

Try to also wear soft gloves outdoors to keep your hands warm and from being exposed to harsh, cold weathers. The cold can cause cracks in your skin due to de-hydration, which can cause your nails to crack and peel.

beautician caring for hands

Take care of your nails

Make sure to keep your nails short, as having longer nails will leave them more prone to breakage. Use a fine and soft nail file, to file the nails down. Make sure to eliminate any irregularities along the nail edge, this will help to make sure to avoid any breakage or splitting. When filing your nails only file in one direction.

Try to avoid alcohol-based sanitisers

Hand sanitisers, more so now than before, are becoming an ever-present part of our daily routines. They are an easy and convenient way to keep any germs off the hands when you can’t access a sink with soap. However, alcohol can dry out the nail and the nail bed, and skin. So, if using them regularly, try to moisturise afterwards, or opt for a sanitizer that doesn’t contain alcohol.

Dry nails can be the sign of other underlying health conditions, so if your nail condition doesn’t seem to improve, then you should consider seeking advice from a trusted medical professional. Dry nails can be a product of too little moisture, but if they don’t become stronger or stop showing signs of being brittle, with the treatments suggested, then medical advice should be sought.

That is our guide to dry nails, want to know more about skin and nails? Take a read through our article about how to get clearer skin, next.





Sign up to our newsletter